Now those are the kind of race instructions I like.
During my racing career, which I am the first to admit is not sparkling; I have studied race instructions—and skippers studying race instructions—with interest.
Aboard the big, professional racing machines, on some of which I have had the privilege to crew; following the race instructions is boring. They have a guy—usually with a degree in quantum mechanics —who stands on the aft deck with a little computer that’s linked to a bigger computer, linked to a satellite that interprets the race instructions and can, at the push of a key, work out how much the yacht decelerates if someone sneezes while facing forward. Where’s the fun in that?
On the boats on which I am usually invited to race, the skipper-come-navigator has a degree in barroomology and at the five-minute gun the conversation goes like this:
What course are we sailing today, skipper?
“A, B or C, skipper?”
“Does the flag on the start boat indicate the course, skipper?”
“That was the one minute warning, skipper.”
“Er … is that the start boat?”
“No, it’s behind us, skipper.”
“Er … where’s the piece of paper that thingy bunged us at the briefing?”
Things improve once the race starts and the boat, usually minutes late, crosses the line. Confident he now understands the sailing instructions, the skipper gives the order: “follow them!” This works until the distant fleet all go off on different tacks and the conversation starts all over again.
“Should we tack, skipper?”
“Where’s the mark, skipper?”
“Is it a red and white buoy, skipper?”
“What is that boat doing over there, skipper?”
“Er … anyone want a beer?”
Fortunately, my skippers don’t take part in the Vendee Globe. Rounding the wrong mark means you’re late for Happy Hour but passing Cape Horn to starboard …